Afghan government sets condition for peace talks with Taliban

The Taliban and Ghani’s government observed a few days of cease-fire during Eid-Ul-Fitr last year. (AFP)
Updated 30 October 2019

Afghan government sets condition for peace talks with Taliban

  • Insists on a cease-fire to gauge unity among members of the insurgent group

KABUL: In a clear sign of shifting strategies, Afghanistan’s government on Tuesday said that the Taliban should declare a one-month cease-fire before the restart of any peace negotiations.

The announcement follows the resumption of efforts by US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad to revive Washington’s talks with the Taliban.

This was after US President Donald Trump’s decided to abruptly call off the discussions last month, just as both parties were nearing the signing of a deal after a year of intensive talks that had seen Kabul being excluded from the start due to the Taliban’s objection.

In the past, President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which relies on the US military as well as financial aid, had set no conditions for holding talks with the Taliban.

However, on Tuesday, Hamdullah Mohib, Ghani’s national security adviser, said that the government was insisting on setting a condition because events from the past year showed that “the Taliban were not united, have no control over the war … and some of Taliban’s major commanders have joined Daesh.”

“We have put the condition not with an intention of blocking peace, our purpose is that they have to show … and it is important that the Taliban should prove how much control they have over their commanders and warriors,” Mohib told a news conference in Kabul.

The Taliban had no immediate comment. While holding talks with Khalilzad, the Taliban has always insisted that the group will announce a truce only after Washington sets a timetable for a complete withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

The Taliban and Ghani’s government observed a few days of cease-fire during Eid-Ul-Fitr last year when thousands of Taliban fighters had flooded urban areas, including Kabul, before joining the battleground and broadening their attacks.

The truce was the first-of-its kind in the latest chapter of the US-led war that began 18 years ago with the Taliban’s ousting.

Mohib said that Khalilzad’s visit this week, the first since he resumed his mission of reviving the talks with the Taliban, was not about peace in the country, but about the exchange of prisoners, which includes a US and an Australian teacher from the American University in Kabul who were kidnapped in 2016 and are held by the Taliban.

He did not elaborate further and did not say what the Taliban’s demands were in return for the freedom of the pair.

But in recent weeks, Taliban sources said that Anas Haqqani, son of a former prominent Taliban leader, was among those that the group had demanded to be set free. Anas, who was captured outside Afghanistan by US officials years ago, is held in an Afghan government-run jail.

Mohib said that Kabul was keen to attend an intra-Afghan conference hosted by China in which Taliban delegates are expected to participate. He said that it had asked Beijing to hold it after the announcement of the Afghan presidential election results that have been delayed twice.

Afghan govt. vows to probe civilian deaths in Kunduz airstrike

Updated 20 September 2020

Afghan govt. vows to probe civilian deaths in Kunduz airstrike

  • There have been conflicting reports from lawmakers and residents about number of fatalities
  • Taliban says none of its fighters killed in attack

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry pledged on Sunday to probe “allegations” of at least 12 civilians being killed in an airstrike targeting Taliban fighters in the northern Kunduz province a day earlier.
The pledge followed inconsistencies about the number of casualties, with the insurgent group saying that none of its men had died in the attack.
“The Taliban were the target, and 30 of them were killed. Initial reports indicate no harm was inflicted upon civilians, but we are probing reports by locals about civilian casualties. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces take allegations of civilian harm seriously, and these claims will be investigated,” Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the defense ministry in Kabul, told Arab News.
He added that the ministry would “share any details” about civilian casualties “once the probe is over.”
If confirmed, Saturday’s airstrike in the Khan Abad district, which lies nearly 350 km from Kabul and is mostly controlled by the Taliban, will be the latest in a series of air raids killing civilians in several parts of the country.
It follows a week after crucial intra-Afghan talks between the government and Taliban officials began in Doha, Qatar on Saturday, to end the protracted war and plan a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan.
There were conflicting accounts from civilians and lawmakers in the area about the incident, with two provincial council members, Ghulam Rabbani Rabbani and Sayed Yusuf, saying that at least 12 civilians had died in Saturday’s air raid.
“Since the area is under Taliban’s control, we have not been able to find out exactly how the civilians were killed,” Rabbani told Arab News.
Meanwhile, Nilofar Jalali, a legislator from Kunduz, offered another version of the attack, which she said “hit a residential area before sunrise when people were still in their bed.”
“Children and women are among the dead, and 18 civilians have also been wounded. I informed the defense minister about it; he said he will check and get back to me, but has not,” she told Arab News. However, Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, denied the reports in a statement on Sunday, saying that “no fighter of the group was killed,” before placing the number of civilian deaths at 23.
Kunduz and other parts of the country have witnessed an escalation in attacks by both the government and the Taliban in recent weeks, despite their negotiators participating in the Qatar talks which are part of a US-facilitated process following 19 years of conflict in the country — Washington’s longest war in history.
The Qatar discussions are based on a historic accord signed between Washington and the Taliban in February this year which, among other things, paves the way for the complete withdrawal of US-led troops from the country by next spring, in return for a pledge from the Taliban not to allow use Afghanistan to harm any country’s, including US, interests.
Kabul’s negotiators in Qatar are pushing the Taliban to declare a cease-fire, while the Taliban say it can be included in the agenda and that both sides must first ascertain “the real cause” of the war.
Some analysts believe that while delegates of the parties are struggling to agree over the mechanism and agenda of the talks in Qatar, their fighters in Afghanistan are “focusing on military tactics to capture grounds” so that they can use it as a “bargaining chip” at the negotiation table.
“Both sides think that if they have more territory then they can argue their case from a position of strength during the talks and use it as leverage,” Shafiq Haqpal, an analyst and a former university teacher, told Arab News.
“The sides have not yet agreed on the mechanism of the talks despite the Qatar talks, which began on the 12th of September. So, this is an indication that things are not going the right way politically, and both sides are trying their luck on the battlefield here.”